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Gus Dur receives more support for presidential race.

JAKARTA, Oct. 7 Kyodo

Indonesia's moderate Muslim-based party nominated its patron Abdurrahman Wahid as the party's presidential candidate Thursday, in an about-face to presidential front-runner Megawati Sukarnoputri.

The nomination of Wahid, who is better known by his nickname "Gus Dur," was the official policy of the National Awakening Party (PKB), the party's deputy chairman, Alwi Shihab, told a news conference at the legislature building.

"We nominate Gus Dur, but without reducing our support for Megawati. It means that if something unexpected happens to Gus Dur along the way, we will go back to supporting Megawati," he said.

Megawati heads the Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI-Perjuangan), which won the most seats in the House of Representatives in last June's general election. However, the party failed to secure a simple majority.

Many of Megawati's supporters have said the election victory should assure her of the presidency.

But Gus Dur's nomination now serves as a major blow for Megawati's party. He is strongly backed by the ruling Golkar party and a coalition of six other parties known as "the central axis." The coalition has won a series of votes in a recent People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) session against PDI-Perjuangan.

The PKB's about-face came as a central axis faction in the MPR, state's highest authority that elects the president, also nominated him as their candidate.

The Reform Faction, comprising the National Mandate Party (PAN) and Justice Party (PK), has said Gus Dur would be the "most acceptable" figure as president to all Indonesian society, including the politically powerful military.

Gus Dur is a close friend of Megawati's. Both have agreed on a possible two-horse race in the upcoming election set for Oct. 20.

The PKB is also a close ally of PDI-Perjuangan and Megawati had hoped to win the PKB's support for her presidency bid.

In a separate news conference shortly after the PKB announcement, PDI-Perjuangan's Deputy Chairman Kwik Kian Gie said his party chooses to see Gus Dur's nomination as no more than a "political tactic."

"I hope that at the right time later on, he will make a move, this time to benefit Megawati," he said.

However, Kwik warned that if Gus Dur really aimed for the presidency, it could stir up a confusion among his followers, given his past statements of support Megawati.

"But of course we cannot read Gus Dur's mind," Kwik said. "It can only be our wishful thinking that this is Gus Dur's tactic."

Gus Dur, the half blind chairman of the 40-million-strong Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Muslim organization, has grown increasingly ambivalent about supporting Megawati as a presidential candidate. Possibly that is because her past reliance on him for advice and counsel has appeared to have dropped off recently.

The NU, of which the PKB is political arm, runs a large and influential network of religious schools that espouse a conservative but apolitical and tolerant version of Islam.

Analysts have said that Gus Dur's relatively secular views have made him a natural partner of Megawati, a populist with solid support from non-Muslims.

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country with 210 million people, is 90% Muslim.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Oct 11, 1999
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